How to control iTunes volume completely independently from the system’s volume

Like me, do you ever want to control iTunes audio independently from the maximum audio of your system? I love audio. I love music. However, I also want balance between my system volume and my iTunes listening experience. I am happy to report that I have found the solution—AirPlay!

AirPlay is a media protocol over WiFi that Apple developed specifically to allow wireless streaming of music through iTunes. As a result, it will allow you to drive iTunes audio independently from your system’s volume.

Now, what will work with AirPlay? What are inexpensive as well as expensive means for using it?

I’ve been researching this stuff for a couple of months. This blog post documents my current findings. Maybe it will help you out, oh random reader.

I should mention that there are AirPlay speaker solutions. However, they typically do not have the latest Wireless N or Wireless AC technology. The moment you connect up a Wireless A, B, or G device to a Wireless N or Wireless AC network, it will reduce the quality of the network itself, which would be an undesired effect. Furthermore, these speakers and docks are typically expensive for what you get. Besides, said speakers and docks do not have good bass range in frequency response and driver abilities, nor do they have subwoofer outputs. If you want quality bass, you will want a different option, such as the ones below.

If you want AirPlay on the cheap, there is at least one solution. Get an AirPort Express and a 3.5mm mini to RCA cable. These will cost you about $120 total. Then, connect them up to your existing stereo as follows:

  • AirPort Express 3.5mm Output > 3.5mm mini to RCA cable > Existing stereo RCA input

iTunes will allow you to stream your music wirelessly to this Express. The volume is totally independent of your system, so it can be as loud as the stereo is set to, but iTunes can control the volume from within the application. You could set the stereo hardware to half volume and then adjust the software volume in iTunes or from the Remote app for iOS.

If you want a good AirPlay setup, which I would assume is a 2.1 speaker system, you might want to consider purchasing an AirPort Express, 3.5mm mini to RCA cable, a powered subwoofer, such as the Pioneer 8″ subwoofer, a subwoofer mono cable, and the iLive ITP180B soundbar (it happens to be an iPhone/iPod docking tower). The soundbar is cheap, but it has one rare feature: a subwoofer output. For the cost, you cannot go wrong. For the subwoofer, I would recommend an 8″ driver. Anything less is not going to get you the full range you would want (my Klipsch system has a 6″ driver, and I can attest that it does not give me all of the super low booms that my 8″ Pioneer subwoofer gives over AirPlay in a different room); anything more will be overkill. This setup would cost no more than $350, depending on the subwoofer you get and where you buy the gear (Amazon seems to have some great deals). The setup would be as follows:

  • AirPort Express 3.5mm Output > 3.5mm mini to RCA cable > iLive RCA Input; Subwoofer Output > Subwoofer cable > Subwoofer Left or Mono Input

The above setup is probably what I will be doing. I’m not made of money, so it is an appealing solution. However, I did figure out a premium solution that would replace my Klipsch setup and add AirPlay.

Purchase a 7.2 receiver with multi-zone capability and built-in AirPlay. You can connect your computer’s speakers through this setup as well as the AirPlay speakers in a separate—independent—zone. If money were no obstacle, here’s what I would do:

This gear would cost around $1200 depending on where it was purchased. Here’s how it would be set up:

  • Zone 1 (Computer speakers)
    • Input
      • Computer 3.5mm Output > 3.5mm mini to RCA cable > Pioneer Receiver RCA Input
    • Output
      • Pioneer Receiver Left, Right Speaker Outputs > 14-guage speaker wire > Pioneer Bookshelf Pair #1
      • Pioneer Receiver Subwoofer 1 Output > Subwoofer Cable > Pioneer Subwoofer #1 Left Input
  • Zone 2 (AirPlay speakers)
    • Input
      • AirPort Extreme LAN > Ethernet cable > Pioneer Receiver LAN
    • Output
      • Pioneer Satellite Left, Right > 14-guage speaker wire > Pioneer Bookshelf Pair #2
      • Pioneer Subwoofer 2 Output > Subwoofer Cable > Pioneer Subwoofer #2 Left Input

This setup is appealing to me, because I would be able to have control over the computer speakers as well as the AirPlay speakers from the same receiver, and then I would have a consistent aesthetic throughout. However, this setup comes at a high cost!

No matter how you do it, you can control iTunes volume independently via AirPlay. There are lots of options out there, but it depends on how much you want to spend. You can do it on the cheap, or you can do it for an arm and a leg. In the end, you can be the master of your system’s and your iTunes’ volumes.